I’ve written about many of the people and personal experiences connected with Chaney High School, but realized after my story last week on East High School that I have never really written an article on the history of Chaney. It is a story that runs through my family. Both of my parents, my brother, sister, and I are all Chaney graduates. This year in particular seems an appropriate one to write that history as my graduating class of 1972 will hold its fifty year reunion.
The early 1920’s were a boom period in Youngstown’s history, with rapid growth outward from the downtown in all directions. At that time, only The Rayen School and South High School served the whole city. The Board of Education reached the decision to build new high schools on the East and West sides of town, that would be named East and West High Schools, respectively. While West High School on N. Hazelwood Avenue was under construction (along with what was then Cleveland Elementary, later to be West Elementary), N. H. Chaney, the former superintendent of schools in Youngstown from 1902 to 1920, died in 1925. He had planned and oversaw the growth of Youngstown schools, and the decision was made to name the new high school in his honor. Chaney High School was born and opened in 1926.
C. W. Ricksecker was the first principal of the school, serving in this position the entire time Chaney was on N. Hazelwood. He was the principal of the Chaney my parents attended. They spoke of his discipline and high standards. In high school, my mother won a statewide chemistry award. One of the people he recruited was Chester McPhee, who taught physical education and coached football and basketball at the old Chaney throughout its history. He was the coach of Frank Sinkwich, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1942 and went on to a brief career in the NFL. George “Shotgun” Shuba, whose handshake with Jackie Robinson was recently commemorated with a statue in Wean Park in downtown Youngstown was also a Chaney graduate. Many others, including my father, went on from their education at Chaney to military service in World War 2, as reflected in this 1943 yearbook paying tribute to those who had already given their lives in service to the country. The yearbooks in this era were called the Rig Veda. Only later would they reflect the Cowboy theme and become The Lariat.
The late 1940’s and 1950’s were another time of growth, during which Youngstown reached its peak population of 170,000 people. Home construction continued on the West side, particularly in the Kirkmere area out to the western and southwestern city limits. Under the leadership of superintendent of schools Paul C. Bunn, plans were made for new schools to accommodate this growth, including a new Chaney High School, located at 731 S. Hazelwood, more central to the whole West side area it would serve. A school levy was passed and the school was built at a cost of $1.4 million and dedicated on February 20, 1955.
C. W. Ricksecker, principal throughout Chaney’s life up to that point was entrusted by Board chair Warren P. Williamson (of WKBN fame) with the “guardianship” of the building. Ricksecker expressed his appreciation for this new facility as he stated, “We are grateful for this palace of learning, for through its modern equipment we may the better teach and inspire youth in a time of increasing difficulty in educational work.” Over 1000 people attended the dedication including the daughter of N. H. Chaney and numerous city leaders.
My first visit to Chaney was in the fall of 1961 during the Sabin vaccine distribution to fight polio. My brother was in his senior year while I was in second grade at the ancient Washington Elementary and I was so impressed with how new and modern it was and thought, “one day this will be my high school.” During those years, Chaney continued its tradition of competitiveness in sports under Lou “Red” Angelo and, during my time at Chaney, Ed Matey, who coached for many years and eventually served as athletic director for Chaney and eventually, the Youngstown Schools. Matey led Chaney football teams to eight City Series championships, coaching future NFL players like Matt Cavanaugh and Jerry Olsavsky. In all, Chaney won more championships in football in the old City Series than any other Youngstown high school. After Ed Matey retired from coaching, Chaney football teams won fourteen more City Series championships before the end of the City Series in 2006.
My memory of Chaney was of several inspiring teachers. I hesitate to name more than one because others will tell me who I left out. One of my favorites was a math and computer science teacher, Mr. Erickson (I write more about him and other inspiring teachers here). He was friends with Harvey, the invisible (to us) rabbit who would visit and with whom Mr. Erickson would speak. He always made math interesting, and offered some of the first computer programming classes when programs were still written on IBM punch cards and run on mainframes that would fill a room and had less computing power than my cell phone. Our principal was Mr. John Maluso, who just recently passed away in his 90’s. Over the years, Chaney graduated not only great athletes but a number of people who excelled in a variety of fields. One of the most notable was Thomas Bopp, the astronomer who co-discovered the Hale-Bopp Comet.
Over the years, Chaney would receive some updates in terms of a new gymnasium and a modern library and media center while four other Youngstown high schools closed. Then in 2011, I heard the news that the “last” class of Chaney Cowboys would be graduating. Chaney would be converted to a school for STEM and arts education with East High School serving as the city’s only traditional high school. That meant the end of sports teams. Then in 2018, the school board reversed course, and converted Chaney back to a traditional high school and restored a number of athletic programs. COVID has disrupted some of the rebuilding process but I look forward to more great Chaney sports teams in the future. And in four more years, in 2026, Chaney will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of its founding. One hopes that the students in coming years will continue Chaney’s tradition of both scholarship, athleticism, and service to community and country that has marked the school throughout its history.
A final note, this is a personal perspective on Chaney’s history, and a limited one at that. I know there is much that I’ve left out. I hope my fellow Cowboys will help tell that story.
Once a Cowboy, always a Cowboy.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!